I definitely haven't been stalling for lack of anything to say. While I've taken weeks to click on Publish, I have been steadily adding -- and adding and adding -- to the post. Indeed, the word count a few days ago was over 2000 words! I suspect that's more than most of you will stick around for, so I'm subdividing Part II of the Two Cities post, into Part II (a) and Part II (b). I'm also re-titling, as you'll see above, because the Seattle post was so long ago that Two Cities doesn't make much sense anymore.
|Our first evening in Paris, Serendipity sat us down at Les Temps des Cerises in the Marais.|
Wanting T to see the Paris I love, but on a budget we could both feel comfortable with, I mentally scannned the restaurants I know well enough to anticipate a suitable menu, service, comfort, all within easy reach of the visitors' hotel not far from Le Jardin des Plantes. Given how many visits Paul and I have made over the years, I feel as if this should be easy, but while I can think of a few favourites, some of these have quirks or prices or menus that might not suit everyone. As well, restaurants change, and last year we only spent two evenings in Paris, one of them with friends at a sushi restaurant (I know!). Do I really want to recommend a place and then find it's gone seriously downhill?
Way back in 2008, I wrote a series of posts on restaurants we enjoy in Paris (if you're interested, you could begin here and work your way back). We still check in on some of these and enjoy them, but it's been seven years, and change happens. Happily, when we've visited Le Petit Vatel under new ownership, we've been happy both with the continuity and with the differences. We didn't get back to Le Martignac in 2014, but we'll check it out in the fall and see if it's still a fun place to grab a very satisfying lunch in the company of mostly French speakers who work in the 'hood (I wrote about it back in 2008 as well, and we've been there almost every year since). I'll be crossing my fingers that it hasn't met the sad fate of. . . .
Christophe's, which I would have loved to visit with friends. . . . Those of us who grabbed every opportunity to eat here have always suspected it couldn't last, but year after year after year Pater and I enjoyed wonderful meals, served by the same solemn-faced waiter (I mentioned the restaurant here, back in 2008). This year, I optimistically climbed the hill to share our find with my sister only to read the sad news on the otherwise steadfast green facade. . . Paul and I wish Geneviève every success, and we may even stop by to test La Table in the fall, but meanwhile, I won't be suggesting that friends meet me at Christophe's. Sigh....
|Same green, same geometry of window lights, same white lettering, but a different font spelling out a different name. Dommage! Vous me manquez, Christophe!|
Back to my dilemma, then with another question informing my decision: Is my friend's friend vegetarian? I'm not sure, and I don't know vegetarian restaurants well enough to be sure I pick something good. In the end, I decide on something that both is, and is not, typically Parisian: a Moroccan restaurant, Au P'tit Cahoua, on Boulevard Saint-Marcel. Not "French food" as many think of it, but, in fact, never having been to Morocco, it was in Paris that we first discovered the wonders of tagines and couscous and pastillas and m'choui.
In fact, until two years ago, when our friends sold their hotel, we would get our tagine fix right across the street. I've recommended that restaurant, Le Sirocco, numerous times, and always got favourable comments from friends who've tried it. It's right around the corner from Gobelins Metro station, but Rachel and I wanted to walk, and Au P`tit Cahoua, where Pater and I had eaten with friends a few years ago, was just enough closer to make it our choice.
And what a success it turned out to be! Charming, friendly, helpful service, with menus offered in both French and English and with patient accommodation of those of us who wished to try our tongues on some new French vocabulary. We ordered an assortment platter of starters, and then each chose a different tagine -- meat, fish, veggie-based. All delicious. The big hit of the evening, though, amusingly enough, was the sweet mint tea -- particularly the way our beautiful young server poured it through its long curved spout from what seemed a surprising distance away from the table. Not a drop was spilled and whether we enjoyed the entertainment or the aeration of the drink more is not clear. We happily accepted an offer of a second pouring, though. And then as we sat and talked and talked, yes, we had one more round before stepping out into the now dark evening to hug good-bye to my friends. For my sister and I, on only our second night in Paris, delights were already unrolling: as we turned onto Rue Soufflot after wandering `round the Pantheon, I was thrilled to be able to point out La Tour Eiffel twinkling her hourly show off in the distance.
By now, I suspect, you're noticing that the photos I'm showing here scarcely seem to match the evening I'm describing, and indeed, we ate indoors at Au P'tit Cahoua, in an invitingly decorated space evocative of Morocco, rich colours and textures enveloping us. We often ended up at sidewalk tables, though. Here, generally for lunch, Serendipity came into play. In my experience, such Serendipity is not dependable, often quite capricious. Rachel and I did very well, I'd say, although there is often a point when one walker is much hungrier than the other and some articulation and negotiation is happening about what menu each is hoping for. I was generally the hungrier one, and once or twice I felt the pressure of trying to find the right spot in time to fend off my crankiness. Crankiness can land one at a table with indifferent food served by a waiter deluged with the impatient rudeness of far too many tourists. I didn't want my sister to see that side of Paris.
And generally, Serendipity served us very well. In the photo at the top of the page, you see us smiling happily, in the Marais, at Les Temps des Cerises on Rue de la Cerisaie, where arriving without reservations netted us this comfortable seat outside, a very good meal, and a waiter who offered to take our photo. I will admit that I recognized the restaurant's name from reviews, but I also studied the menu you can see on the ardoise just to the left of the photo. In other words, I didn't just plop us down and take our chances. Food is far too important to leave completely to Serendipity, and there are only so many meals to enjoy in a week.
Paul and I will be staying not too far from Les Temps des Cerises this fall, and I'm hoping to share the find with him. . . and perhaps check out the charming interior. At our sidewalk table, Rachel was especially enthusiastic about her gazpacho and my tomato croustillant was delicious, the restaurant's rendition being a layer of tomato slices drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with basil, under a thick slice of mozarella, lightly crusted and grilled, under two beautifully rolled slices of prosciutto. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of the lemon tart we shared as dessert, but honestly? That baby didn't last long enough for photo-taking. . .
Other meals Rachel and I enjoyed at restaurants that threw themselves across our path included
Au Bourgignon du Marais on rue Français Miron where the Beet Millefeuilles was both delicious and beautifully presented, the "thousand leaves" of the usual pastry being replaced by thinly sliced beets, with thin slices of goat cheese between them.
A very nice lunch at Le Galliera restaurant, directly opposite the Palais Galliera where we'd already devoured the fabulous Jeanne Lanvin exhibit. I had a succulent starter of white asparagus followed by a well-prepared fish filet.
We had a couple of indifferent meals as well, but even then, one is eating Salade Gourmande or boudin noir while drinking rosé at a sidewalk table in Paris? For me, part of the fun of visiting Paris is the walking and wandering and following one's nose and eyes. . . Sometimes, yes, the day's direction is set by following directions to a restaurant I've read about. I'll tell you about just such a day and the restaurant that had us following directions considerably longer than we'd expected.
I'll also tell you about restaurants Paul and I followed similar directions to many years ago, addresses that yielded such good results that we return year after year. I took my sister and my nephew to two of those, and one of them we even went to a second time.
But sometimes, as I've suggested above, rather than following directions, the visitor trusts to Chance. And I have one more Serendipitous find to tell you about, one that's not your typical tourist find, but that I'll definitely be trying to make time for when Pater and I are in Paris this fall. All of these will have to wait for Part B, though. This has gone on long enough, no? For now, though, I'd love to know how you decide where to eat when you're visiting a new city. How much do you leave to chance? How much do you prefer to research? Any good stories about the pros and cons of either approach?
Or you could answer another question I'm curious about: how are you at recommending places for friends to eat at? Are you happy to draw on past experience or do you worry you'll steer fellow diners wrong? Have you ever been given a recommendation that turned out poorly? I'd love to hear. . . As always, of course, feel free to respond to anything that strikes you in the post . . .